Monday, November 14, 2016

The Minimum Wage and Christian Hope

Holy Family by Ade Bethune

There is a lot of debate about raising the minimum wage. The fight for $15 movement is going strong and has gained footing in a number of regions in the USA. 

People are debating the merits from both sides.

However, there is one line of reasoning that I have not heard anyone else make, and it is significant. It is probably missed because it is so obvious that it's right in front of our eyes.

Even better, you do not need a degree in economics to understand it.


St. Joseph the Worker, by Ade Bethune
It goes like this:

A lot of people are against raising the minimum wage because they say it will ultimately hurt people and the economy. They claim the wage increase with bring about a corresponding increase in inflation, which would effectively neutralize the value of that additional income. Even worse, critics argue, businesses will also speed up the process of automating their facilities (and thus laying off workers) to avoid the higher wages they would have to pay.

I'm not here to argue about the method of increasing wages. While I would love to see more people earing higher wages, I'm willing to accept that here are better and worse ways of doing this. Fine.

We must be careful not to assume that all attempts of raising wages are going to be a disaster.

If we accept this, then we give in to hopelessness. We would have to assume that most citizens are just going to have to live in poverty. Under this logic, the best anyone can hope for is to not be one of those people. The argument against raising wages is that keeping them low is the only way to preserve some wealth for some people. Raising wages, they argue, will hurt the economy for the rest of us and not help the poor in the end.

If you can't raise wages, then that means that you lose all hope that we can ever overcome widespread poverty. It means that the people who are poor are always going to be poor. It means that success is only available for some of us and that there's nothing we can do about it. It means we live in a world without hope that the earth will ever be as it is in heaven.

Wrong.

This defies all common sense and a basic look at history. We know that there have been societies throughout history where the vast majority of people were deeply impoverished while a few were wealthy. We also know that there have been societies where there was a thriving middle class and poverty was kept to a minimum--many countries in Europe are like that right now.

In fact, if you look back just a generation in the USA, it was once typical for a man to leave high school, enter the workforce and earn enough to support an entire family on one income and expect to live a middle-class lifestyle. That used to be typical in the USA.

If it used to be typical, what is stopping us from going back to that system?

There is no fixed law that says a certain percentage of society must be poor. That percentage changes based on the leadership of the society and the economic approach they use. Some places in the world have more poverty than others. That means a better society is always available. Far too many places have proven that it can be done and done well.

Economists will argue whether it's wise to raise wages too quickly or whether it's best to roll out changes regionally or nationally. I will leave it to the experts to debate the method. But let's all be 100% clear: It is possible to have a society where poverty is kept to a minimum (if not downright eradicated) and the vast majority of people maintain at least a middle-class lifestyle. There are simply too many examples in the world of places that do exactly that.

How we get there may be in question. But we should never doubt that we can get there.

It is incumbent on Christian morality to fight for a living wage for all. If we believe the words of Jesus Himself, we have to believe that not only is it possible but that it is part of our duty as Christians to remake this world in the image of the Kingdom--through God's grace, of course.

Businesses will make every prediction of gloom and doom. We know this. Every time society has worked to improve the lives of its citizens, many in the business community have fought against this claiming, "It'll kill business!" Yet, businesses continued to thrive after those changes were enacted. In fact, the more rights and better wages for workers has usually translated into a better society for all, including the business community. And none of this has to happen by using military force or other violent means (in fact, that rarely (if ever) works). We just have to make sure everyone has the opportunity for a living wage.

This comic below is one of my all-time favorites and pretty much tells the story:

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